Since emerging in the late eighties, hip hop has become one of the most divisive, transformative, and controversial music genres of all time.
Choosing thirty of the greatest rap albums wasn’t easy, but we’ve done our best to bring you the best hip-hop sounds from the artists who have defined the genre.
Included are some of the greatest rappers of all time. This includes Eminem and Mos Def and a collection of the most enthralling collabs in hip hop history. Ready to dive in?
30. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded (1987)
Emerging from the N.Y.C. hip hop underground, Boogie Down Productions contributed to the standard-setting Golden Age of hip hop in the late eighties, and Criminal Minded is a definitive hip hop classic.
29. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
A soul-bearing confessional, To Pimp a Butterfly is even better than good kid, M.A.A.D. City, and establishes Lamar as one of the most talented and controversial hip-hop artists of his generation.
28. Ultramagnetic M.C.s – Critical Beatdown (1988)
Critical Beatdown is somehow both critically acclaimed and undervalued at the same time. Kool Keith delivers exceptional lyrics, and the production is on point, leading us to think Critical Beatdown deserves a little more respect as one of the finest hip-hop albums out there.
27. Eric B & Rakim – Paid in Full (1987)
Smooth and seductive, Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full was a masterful contribution to a genre of music in its infancy. Full of charisma and unapologetic lyrics, Paid in Full deserves its place at the pinnacle of the hip-hop genre.
26. Common – Be (2005)
You could make a case for several of Common’s albums to be featured here, but Be deserves its place as his magnum opus, with tracks like Testify and The Food the standout features of this production.
25. De La Soul – Stakes Is High (1996)
Stakes Is High is straight-up hip hop at its undisputed best, a masterpiece from one of the most consistently brilliant hip-hop.
24. 2Pac – Me Against the World (1995)
2Pac’s best album? Probably. While it might not be as popular as All Eyez on Me, Me Against the World is more balanced, and he has yet to fully embrace his thug persona that is evident in his later works.
23. Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986)
As the first white act to make it big in hip hop, the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill is full of fun and energy and helped them gain credibility.
22. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1998)
You could make a case for the inclusion of every Public Enemy on this list, but It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back deserves its place. Many can resonate with this revolutionary rap manifesto because of eerie, nihilistic, and a condemnation of America’s ills.
21. Mobb Deep – The Infamous (1995)
It’s fair to say The Infamous is divisive. Viewed by many as one of the best hip hop albums ever, others struggle to relate to its grit and dark undertones. Either way, it’s impossible to ignore Mobb Deep’s landmark album.
20. Outkast – Aquemini (1998)
It’s almost impossible to decide which Outkast album is the best, but Aquemini is undoubtedly up there. The production is a creative masterpiece with soulful beats and eclectic lyrics and is a genuinely memorable listen.
19. Ice Cube – Death Certificate (1991)
Ice Cube’s relentless attack on nineties America in Death Certificate is highly controversial but arguably pips his work on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted as his most acceptable offering.
18. Mos Def – Black on Both Sides (1999)
Mos Def is a witty and intelligent emcee who often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Black on Both Sides is filled with passion, creativity, and humour and is a must-listen for all hip-hop fans.
17. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003)
The album that gave us In Da Club Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is Fifty’s showpiece and broke through the mainstream to appeal to audiences worldwide.
16. Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Long before Jay-Z became the global icon he is today, he was hustling on the streets of N.Y.C. His debut set, Reasonable Doubt, is full of ice-cool rhymes and memorable lyrics and proved to be the foundation of his incredible career.
15. Kanye West – The College Drop Out (2004)
Forget about Kanye’s bizarre personality and political views for a minute; there was a time when he produced exceptional hip hop. This was exemplified in The College Drop Out, with tracks like Through the Wire and All Falls Down that brought us stunning collabs and welcomed a mainstream audience to underground hip hop.
14. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (1993)
One of the most cherished hip hop artists of all time, A Tribe Called Quest brought us jazz-rap fusions that are best classed as ‘backpack hip hop,’ with their Midnight Marauders release an example of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg at the very top of their game.
13. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)
This charming and mystical production by M.F. Doom and Madlib was both raw and futuristic, providing a hypnotic take on hip hop that is unique and meaningful in its own right.
12. L.L. Cool J – Radio (1985)
Equally as transformative as Run D.M.C.’s debut, L.L. Cool J’s Radio exemplified his witty revolutionary lyricism and evolved into one of the all-time great hip hop albums.
11. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle (1993)
Snoop Dogg’s debut album was eagerly anticipated after making a name for himself on Dr. Dre’s Chronic. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.
10. Run D.M.C. – Raising Hell (1986)
A genuinely transformative album, Raising Hell opened hip hop to audiences worldwide and solidified Run D.M.C.’s position as one of the genre’s leading lights.
9. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
A game-changer if there ever was one, Straight Outta Compton was one of the first ‘gangsta rap’ albums and exemplified Dr. Dre’s production at its finest.
8. Eminem – The Marshal Mathers LP (2000)
As Dr. Dre’s protégé, Eminem took the hip-hop world by storm with the release of three masterful albums at the turn of the century. The Marshal Mathers LP was arguably his best, introducing us to The Real Slim Shady amongst others.
7. Notorious B.I.G – Ready To Die (1994)
Unquestionably one of the finest rappers of all time, Biggie’s storytelling prowess is there for all to hear on Ready To Die. This album title foreshadowed his senseless slaying in 1997.
6. Dre – The Chronic (1992)
One of the best G-funk albums ever made, The Chronic propelled Dre to the forefront of the industry and introduced the world to the sounds of Snoop Doggy Dogg.
5. Sean Price – Mic Tyson (2012)
Straight out of Brooklyn, Mic Tyson is the third studio album of Sean Price and is full of gutter, street bully rap that is without rival.
4. The Game – The Documentary (2005)
While there’s plenty of room for debate about whether Fifty wrote The Documentary, it’s still a pumping and aggressive west coast production that became one of the best-selling hip hop albums of the decade.
3. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (1993)
The most important hip-hop album of the nineties? Maybe. The Clan’s arrival introduced us to raps from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Chef Raekwon, and Method Man, to name a few. A true classic.
2. DJ Quik – Quik is the Name (1991)
From the east coast to the west, DJ Quik is one of the godfathers of G-Funk sound and helped west coast hip hop rise to prominence in the early nineties.
1. Nas – Illmatic (1994)
Welcome to Nasir Jones’ debut release, Illmatic. The archetypal reflection of ghetto life in N.Y.C., Nas delivers a genre-defining album that paves the way for many to follow.
The Best Rap Albums of All Time
The eighties and nineties were transformative decades for the hip-hop industry. The thirty albums introduced in this post deserve their place at the pinnacle of the genre. They have brought us unique, soulful contributions from some of the most creative and inspired artists the music industry has ever seen.